CSU Turns 50 Series #7

A new student union building is just around the corner, will there finally be a student pub?

Bridget Stringer-Holden (she/her) // News Editor
Valeriya Kim (she/her) // Illustrator

As the Capilano Students’ Union’s (CSU) Vice President Finance and Services, Akira Yamagishi (he/him) manages a portfolio consisting primarily of finance, services and spaces. This includes projects such as the Empower Me mental health services, ensuring that the budget reflects the resources that are allocated toward advocacy, events and services, but also means leading the development of the new student union building.

After joining the CSU as an at-large representative in 2020 through the fall by-elections, Yamagishi gained experience with the CSU and eventually ran for his current position in 2021. “It has definitely been a rollercoaster of navigating the pandemic with our executive team and staff,” he said, noting that figuring out how to deliver services and events was challenging through new COVID variants. “When our team took office in June 2021 we had some grandiose plans that were hashed out assuming the pandemic would fizzle out by Fall, so it was pretty disappointing that we couldn’t bring all those concepts to the students.”

On the other hand, Yamagishi has found it rewarding to be able to meet students and listen to their experiences. “Whether we were able to help them or not, it’s been rewarding knowing that we really do remember issues that students tell us and incorporate those into our long-term goals and values so they can be addressed.”

An example of this is the Student Union Building Committee that was formed in September 2021. It consists of a combination of current student leaders and CSU board alumni to provide continuity throughout the project. As chair of the committee, Yamagishi ensures that the committee is “providing guidance and effective oversight on the development of the SUB.”

At this point, the committee is still in the process of deciding what kind of spaces should be included in the SUB — they are considering spaces for food and beverage services, to study or book for meetings, to host clubs and events, as well as a nap space to recharge between classes.

“On the pub — we’ve heard a lot of support from students for a place where they can get a casual drink after class, but we have to make sure that there’s a good business plan in place so it’s financially sustainable,” he said, not promising anything, but noting that personally he loves the idea.

“If done right, I think the SUB will change the campus culture and sense of community at CapU — some students might think it will be another building to study but it will be so much more,” said Yamagishi. “We want to build and support a campus community culture that allows all students to feel like they belong to something and know that they have a close network of people to support them, not just academically but with any life situation.”

In terms of accessibility, the committee is committing to meet or exceed the recommendations from the 2018 campus accessibility audit — including elevator access to every floor and gender neutral washrooms. There are plans to increase outreach to students for input in later stages of the project.

“We are pretty confident that we will include all of those spaces, but actual commitment and space allocation won’t be fully implemented until our next phase of development, after we do an extensive student input engagement plan,” explained Yamagishi. The committee has authority from the board to make decisions about spaces, but bigger decisions such as requesting financial underwriting must go through the board for approval.

The building levy fee was successfully expanded through a 2017 referendum — allowing for more funds to be collected and the ability to build the SUB in a shorter time frame. The building levy fees go into a special-purpose fund, meaning that it’s restricted to activities and costs that relate to the fund’s core mandate. “Obviously, COVID had stalled progress, but the delay ultimately improved our situation by reducing the funds we will have to borrow from the bank to cover the difference,” said Yamagishi.

Although COVID forced the CSU to shift their priorities to more immediate student concerns, the estimation is that funding will be requested this fall at the Annual General Meeting. Once funding is approved, Yamagishi expects that it will take up to a year to finalize the building’s design and obtain permits.

Although no name has been chosen for the new building, the current plans place it right on top of the Dogwood site so that it can stand alone. Barring any further complications, it should take up to two years to build.

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